Why does a quality logo cost so much?

A lot happens.

Some people stagger when I tell them a logo can cost thousands of dollars. Well, none of mine have, but my starting price is sometimes still a bit much for a thrifty business owner to swallow. Other times they don’t understand the process of custom logo design. Here’s why good designers don’t often trade a creative logo for a Thanks-And-A-Handshake.

There’s homework involved.

After the consultation but before I ever even touch a pen, mouse, or tablet, I do my research. I look for things that can tell your story: online, books, nature, engineering, art, photography, user experiences, and everything in between.

 

Then I brainstorm. I identify strong concepts and try to figure out what icons, images, or typographical tricks can condense the mission, objective, and culture of an entire business down into a single icon. Then I make sure no one else has already done it. That’s like trying to stuff 100 pounds of you-know-what into a 1-pound bag.

The effort is collaborative.

I’m not the only one with homework. In my consultations, I ask a lot of hard questions: questions many business owners may not have considered even when they wrote their business plans. I want to be sure I understand the essence of a business, what makes it different, special, or unique–and often it’s not the business’s product or service. It’s tapping into someone else’s inspiration. You may think we’re just having a conversation, but my consultation is a multi-sensory experience I’ve crafted so we can have a real conversation. For a brief moment, I share the client’s vulnerability as he or she talks about their dreams, goals, and fears (that’s my Clinical Psychology degree at work).

Sometimes, though, a potential client wants a logo, any logo, just to have a logo and doesn’t want anything to do with the process. While understandable, that’s not a challenge. That’s not what I provide. We should both come out of this experience with a better understanding of the business and each other so that we can both serve it better.

The software doesn’t do the work.

After the consultation and the research, there’s more work to be done. For my logos, personally, I like to start with good ol’ fashioned pencil and paper. It gets my creative juices flowing, bridges a connection between head and my hands, and frankly, I simply like the experience of soft graphite crushing into textured paper. I will go through 30, 40, or even 50 doodles over the course of a few days or a week until I hit on one that resonates. You just know it when you see it.

Though I sketch out many, many ideas, I revise, reiterate, and/or trash most of them. The research, brainstorming, and conceptualizing makes up the bulk of the cost of the logo. The actual time in the software is much shorter than any single previous step.

 

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The KISS Principle

Simple logos are not necessarily easy logos. Coco Chanel’s fashion advice relates to design as well: Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off. The Three H Medical and PhotoBuzz logos, for example, went though countless iterations to make them look deceptively simple. I filled several 11×15-inch pages with drawings, sketches, doodles, ideas, and words only to reduce them all back down to one idea. But once I saw it, I knew it was the one.

Presentation isn’t just for food

Once I’ve settled on two or three potential logos, I have to–as they say in Math class, “show your work.” I briefly explain the concept and what drove the design. If you don’t connect with a logo, no one else will either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of these steps take time, skill, and careful consideration to interpret a client and business. Sure, you can pay a sweatshop to bang out just any logo that you can slap into your e-mail signature–and they may very well have tried their best to interpret your goals. There’s a time and a place for that kind of work. But when purchasing a service that produces a product which is supposed to connect, resonate, and inspire, you’ll want to have that experience first hand as well.

Header Illustration by Adam Ellis

Making a Mark

One of the things that gets my brain moving at light speed is creative storytelling. So when I stumbled on 99% Invisible, the website, blog, and podcast that talks about design, I was all over that like flies on…well, you know.

And then they released this episode: Making a Mark: Visual Identity with Tom Geismar.

What makes a logo resonate?

This is one of those immeasurable qualities about design. It’s a feeling that you can’t quite put your finger on, but you know when it works. Or, in 99% Invisible’s argument, sometimes design is so good you don’t notice it. That’s what the episode delves into. Tom Geismar designed logos you’ve undoubtedly seen.

from 99percentinvisible.com

Mr. Geismar has some insightful thoughts about logo design and making an impact with your branding. He talks about why it’s important to take this seriously, and what his firm does for its clients. He is, in a word, #lifegoals like Ellen Lupton and Paula Scherer.

Give the podcast a listen if you ever find yourself wondering, “What’s the point of hiring a professional designer when my niece/friend/student will do it for free?” If you have the funds for a good designer, hire one. They think of things and follow instincts you might ignore.

It’s not just about knowing your way around the software–the software is only a tool, like a circular saw or stethoscope. A talented designer has acquired skills beyond these tools.

It’s my job to listen carefully, build trust, a deliver home runs.

I firmly believe in listening more than talking, and to get clients talking about themselves and their passions. I build relationships and we work from the trust and confidence we have in each other. Contact me and we can start that journey together.

Wacom PTZ630 vs. Huion H610Pro

You may remember on Instagram that I posted about my new drawing tablet, the Huion H610Pro.

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For some background, I’ve been using the Wacom Intuos 3 (model PTZ-630) since 2008. Or 2007. I can’t remember. It’s been my all-purpose mouse for most of the last decade. I LOVE this thing, and am certain that using a drawing pen for ALL mouse input has protected me from any form of carpal tunnel.

I needed a new tablet since after a decade of daily use, my Wacom was starting to show some wear and tear (the tablet’s drawing surface started peeling up), plus the driver was giving me more and more attitude as Adobe and Microsoft released newer and newer versions of their software. I shopped around, dead-set on another Wacom, but figured–what the heck–a medium-sized Huion is a fraction of the price (only $77, versus Wacom’s $350 one I was looking at) and has a 60-day return policy. I’m not a Photoshop Painter, unlike my buddies Gavin and Sita (who are amazing), so I didn’t need Wacom’s $1,000 beast (and if you’re reading my humble blog, you probably don’t either). I’ve been using the Huion for a week.

Huion H610 Pro Graphic Drawing Tablet with Carrying Bag and Glove

Features Smart Sensitive Performer Varying the pressure of the pen against the drawing pad can create variations in line width and opacity, which makes you feel as if you are drawing with a real pen on paper. With 2048 levels of pen pressure sensitivity, Huion H610 Pro gives strokes of what you d…

For those interested, I’m running a Windows 10 PRO PC installed with an Intel Core i5 processor and 16G of RAM on dual Samsung monitors with NVIDIA GeForce 9400GT graphics card. I ain’t playin’ around.

Well, I have updates.

I am going to assume you’ve been using a Wacom, and want to know what a Huion is like. This post is for experienced designers who are thinking about making a switch, not designers new to drawing tablets and trying to decide between them.

Now on to the update.

Most annoying: the pen lags.

Like I said, I use my tablet + pen for all mouse input: Browsing the web, in Illustrator, Microsoft Word–everywhere. Using the pen in Adobe Illustrator CC while creating this logo was a bit frustrating: the pointer on-screen would “lag” or get “sticky,” staying in one part of the screen after I’d moved to another. Sometimes the problem would resolve itself, sometimes I had to hit ESC or plug the pen into its charging USB to “reset” it.

Second, if I haven’t used the pen for a while because I’ve switched to my ultra-sensitive Razer Salmosa Gaming Mouse out of frustration with the lagging, I have to tap on the tablet with the pen to get my computer to recognize the pen input method again. It doesn’t just pick up where we left off like we’re old pals.

While we’re talking about the pen…

The pen has a battery.

The pen must be charged. This eats up my highly-prized USB port real estate. The pen does stay charged for quite some time, so I guess I could unplug the cable from my USB port when the pen isn’t charging, but then I’d lose the cable. I am a mess.

If you don’t make a habit of charging it every night, the pen could potentially die in the middle of whatever you’re working on. Sure, you can use the pen while it’s plugged in, but that’s a heckin’ AWFUL experience…

Second most annoying: Text Selection.

I cannot make copypasta with any significant reliability. To highlight a ton of text (say, like in Word) is a pain and sometimes the pen just doesn’t do it (like from a webpage). Double-tapping will select a word or a sentence or nothing or bring up those little iPhone-like teardrop selectors. Whatever the pen is in the mood for. It only works this way on some text, not all, and I haven’t figured out the pattern yet. I’ve resorted to shift+click to select text when the pen won’t play nice.

The construction is definitely China.

I am not hot about the construction. The pen is very lightweight, almost so much that it feels flimsy. Unlike the solid-feeling Wacom tablet, the Huion feels hollow. Like you half-expect the Huion to be filled with packing peanuts or butterflies. I do like a little more weight to my pen, but for reference the Huion pen weighs about the same as an unsharpened No. 2 Pencil. A knockoff Mont Blanc pen is heavier. The weight of the hardware gives me concerns about its durability.

There’s no mouse option.

That’s pretty self explanatory, but it’s significant because see annoyances number one and two. It would be nice to have a wireless mouse come with the Huion, but I already have a dozen mice, so I guess this is more of me being spoiled by the Wacom than any fault of Huion. Plus my gaming mouse has surgical precision and I prefer it anyway.

Summary

If you’re a student or a newbie to drawing tablets, buy the Huion. If you’re a professional Photoshop painter or a professional digital illustrator, buy the Wacom. The rest of us will fall somewhere in between. The Huion isn’t terrible, but it is inferior to the Wacom if you need an insane degree of accuracy. I’m not set on keeping the Huion, but I’m not set on returning it, either. I am set on giving it a real chance. While my intention with any tablet is to use it for all mouse input, I can say that the Huion is not that tablet. Maybe the new Wacoms aren’t either. Maybe I’m just SOL.

If you have a tablet (purchased new in the last five years), tell me. I want your input; maybe I’ll even update my blog later with what others have said about their tablets.

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Some Web Hosts Just Aren’t That Good

“Web Host? A What?”

First things first, if you are already familiar with what web hosting is, you can skip this section. For those who are not internet-savvy, a web host is a company with lots and lots of computers who allows you to lease space on those computers to store the data for your website. It is the computers where your text, images, and dancing bananas GIFs () are stored for your domain name (www.mysite.com) . Hosting is something you must purchase in addition to your domain name if you want to be found on the web (unless, of course, you keep a server handy in a broom closet).

Oh, ok. So They’re not all the same?

Heavens, no. Of course, you can pick any one you want, from the cheapest you can find to the most robust supercomputers that could plan and power a fully automated trip to poor, old, evicted Pluto. The problem in taking a random shot with any old cheap web host is that their servers are unlikely be powerful or modern enough to fuel a professional website. They could be slow, unreliable, outdated, poorly supported, or neglected.

What’s wrong some of them?

Well, we all like a good deal. But when it comes to many things, you get what you pay for. The reason some of these hosting sites are super-cheap (like, $1 a month) is because they skimp on important features, like the storage space you receive, the number of visitors you can get each month, the level of technical support you’ll receive if your site goes down, or, in the case of Yahoo Small Business Hosting, outdated server protocols.

Case Study: Yahoo Small Business Hosting

Cover your eyes, it’s about to get very nerdy in here.

We ran into an issue with launching a website on a very basic Luminate/Yahoo Aabaco Small Business’s hosting service. The .htaccess file is a very normal and common part of a website; this is not some voodoo file that casts spells on visitors. Yahoo doesn’t allow an .htaccess file to be uploaded (reputedly for “security reasons”), which can cause an issue when navigating around the complex website we built. The home page looked and worked fine, but if you clicked on any internal link on the homepage, you received an Error 404: File Not Found. The .htaccess file has a redirect functionality, which will resolve ugly and complicated URLs to tidy and easy-to-remember URLs. Without this file, we had to change our permalinks from Post Name to Custom Structure, appending /index.php/ after the root. All the pages in the site after the home page looked like this: www.mysite.com/index.php/my-page, instead of the preferable www.mysite.com/my-page.

Further, Yahoo’s hosting is slow to upgrade to the newer versions of PHP. This can cause an issue with certain features of a modern website, from contact forms to how the site actually renders and functions.

Okay, you can look now; the nerding is over.

Now, we’re not picking on Yahoo here. Cheap hosting is fine for personal sites: simple HTML sites that don’t do a whole lot or for sites that don’t have a whole lot of data (e.g.: mostly text, a few small photos or graphics, and no fancy animations or slideshows). Cheap-o hosting is not for professional sites.

Who should I pick, then?

Well, you can host through us when you purchase a web design package. We can walk you through the entire Getting-A-Website process and tell you why and how we’re doing everything. We offer hosting plans starting at $39/month. Hosting is fast, reliable, and you speak to an American when you call. This hosting is secure, and prevents downtime, SPAM, hacks, and costly data loss. Most importantly, it is robust enough to power a professional website with the allocated resources necessary.

And you won’t regret having a lightning-fast site with nearly 100% uptime, I promise.

Why it’s important to purchase web maintenance even if you’re not changing your content

People often think of a website as a one-time purchase: you pay for the design, the designer launches it, everyone high-fives, and you move on. Like most things in business–daily accounting, fleet vehicle maintenance, dusting the shelves, or following up with customer inquiries–a website requires routine attention to serve you best. Further, the web isn’t just some static being that sits and waits for people to interact with it; the web changes continuously.

Web programming is always evolving, getting better, more secure, and more powerful. Some of the tools web designers use to make your site better, secure, and robust also change continuously. These include content management systems (CMSs), like WordPress; payment gateways, like PayPal; and IDX feed integrations, like MLS.

Even if you purchase the most basic maintenance offered, here are very good reasons to purchase a maintenance package:

Security Updates

Many web tools require manual security updates. A friend of mine had a property management company whose website was hacked. The hackers took his entire website down and replaced it with a photo of a masked man pointing a gun toward the viewer. This is well-documented and does happen. He ended up paying his web designer several hundred dollars to fix it.

Having your website taken down isn’t the only thing that could go wrong. Mean people do all sorts of things: change your site’s information, reroute traffic, steal your or your customers’ data, distribute malicious code (malware), and a host of other things.

Third-Party Vulnerabilities

Third-party vulnerabilities are related to security updates. For example, on WordPress-managed sites there are powerful tools called Widgets and Plugins. Widgets are small info blocks that perform a specific function. A PlugIn is a separate piece of software that performs a group of functions. These are often developed and maintained by someone other than WordPress. While they improve the functionality of your website, they can also create vulnerabilities. Since these both run some sort of code, they will need to be monitored for bugs and security updates.

If you’re telling yourself, “Well, I just don’t want any PlugIns or Widgets,” then you are also saying you don’t want payment gateways, a Facebook feed integration, a contact form, a professional-looking photo gallery, or your contact information on the sidebar of every page.

If you want a hand-coded page (no CMS like Joomla, Drupal, or WordPress), that’s fine, too, but they cost considerably more, take much longer to create, and are far more expensive to update. Hand-coded websites are neither cost- nor time-efficient.

Forced Updates

All reliable CMSs require updates. WordPress, for example, will eventually force its most critical updates to your site after it’s noticed you’re running very outdated versions of its software, but this is risky. The new version may not be compatible with some of your plugins or widgets, theme functionality, contact forms, photo galleries, or other tools that make your site sing. You risk losing all your data, or breaking your site entirely. Eventually, if your site has been neglected and only received these forced updates, it will break. It is like playing Russian Roulette with your website.

In fact, 27% of all hacking occurs on sites allowing WordPress to force updates.

Regular Backups of Site Content

Creating a copy of everything on your website is important in case you move your hosting, allow only forced updates to your site, get hacked, or someone messes something up while tinkering on the back-end. Without a recent copy of everything, you risk losing purchases, inventory catalogs, order histories, customer databases, messages, testimonials, and anything and everything else on your website.

Functionality Updates

Remember how I said the web is continually changing? This means web programming languages are enhancing mobile friendliness, usability, accessibility, speed–even the web languages themselves. Archaic or antiquated HTML won’t look clean or function as nicely in a modern browser, and some programming protocols have become completely obsolete and browsers flat-out ignore them. These may sound like fluff, but they are important; a poor user experience hurts your credibility–both to the actual users and to search engines.

Summary

You don’t realize the value of someone monitoring these tools until something goes wrong. Often, it is more expensive to fix problems after you’ve neglected maintenance because basic security must be updated before the problem can really be fixed. I encourage all my clients to purchase web maintenance. It will make your life easier, invoices less expensive, and relationships more productive.

Text versus Iconography in Logos

A logo is your story in a single mark: the essence of your business, if you will. Some folks can get away with text-based logos. Other people need some sort of icon or visual cue to help them remember who the logo belongs to or what the business does. Not all logos need icons. Not all text-based logos are successful. It’s not my job to tell you what to choose, but it is my job to dig into the meat of your business, find out what you like, what’s already out there, then present you with well-informed and meaningful logos that you’ll enjoy using.

Let me illustrate (I swear that was the only pun!).

Imagine a business that says everything it does in the name: Pensacola Pressure Washing, for example. The words already say everything that needs to be said, so additional information might seem redundant or unnecessary. Sure, it’s a pretty generic name, but it’s an easy one to remember. It could be also argued that a highly-stylized or uniquely arranged text-based logo itself becomes an image to the brain; the brain no longer reads the letters for what they literally represent and instead sees a shape or a picture. A prime example of this is “Disney.”pensacola-pressure-washing-01

Now imagine a business with a person’s name or unclear mission, such as Jack Dawson, M.D., or UprightPro, Inc. Studies agree that imagery paired with text helps people with recognition and recall in memory tests. That’s why lots of logos include icons, imagery, or objects in place of or in addition to words. This approach makes sense in cases where names are forgotten, or what your business does or sells is ambiguous. In these cases, it would be prudent to consider imagery, icons, or some other visual cue for onlookers.

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You’ll likely remember that Dr. Dawson is a pediatrician.

 

pensacola-pressure-washing-03
OH! Upright makes chairs, not bicycles or tanning beds.

 

Things to consider when re-designing your website

It’s 2016, and some folks are still using table- or or Adobe Flash-based web design. What is that, exactly? Well, here is an example of table-based design:

website-redesign
Table-based web design

Table-based web design is a boxy layout, with a clear separation between content, background, and images. Adobe Flash sites flicker, move and exhibit large, full-screen animations–difficult to convey with a screenshot.

What, exactly, do viewers think when they see table-based layout web design? The general consensus is, “outdated.” This style of web design was popular 10+ years ago because it enabled designers to control–with absolute certainty–the arrangement of the page elements with respect to a viewer’s desktop monitor. And, most influential, smartphones were not nearly as ubiquitous, so mobile-friendly websites were barely a twinkle in our eyes.

Today, with the variety of screen sizes and devices used to browse the web, we don’t want a rigid design like that. You want a layout that will cater to your user’s device. Not only is a responsive site easier to navigate, but it’s also a much more practical design. Responsive sites also use open-source coding, such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. You want to avoid certain things in today’s web design. Here are three of them:

Adobe Flash

If you have an iPhone, you know it doesn’t play nice with Flash video and animations. Google Chrome and Firefox disable Flash by default. Even Steve Jobs had an opinion about its use back in 2010. If that wasn’t an omen, I don’t know what is. Flash is a vulnerable plug-in, prone to security issues, reliability failures, and bogged-down performance. Sure: a slick animation looks great, but be sure your designer doesn’t rely on Flash for that. Further, full-Flash websites are difficult and expensive to update.

Auto-Play

Whether background music or an embedded video, let your users decide if they want the noise. They could be riding on the subway, shopping while nursing a newborn, in a public restroom–or not paying attention in a meeting! I always strongly discourage background music on websites because it’s often disruptive or intrusive for viewers.

Contact Forms

You might think I’m nuts, but if you don’t plan to monitor and respond to the e-mails that come through that web contact form, don’t bother adding one. Not only will your lack of response hurt the professionalism with which people view your business, but also your pocketbook–you’ll pay for it in lost sales leads!

I’m always happy to offer free evaluations of your current or prospective website. If you’d like to have a no-strings-attached chat, gimme a shout.

E-mail Marketing: Is it even still relevant?

linkedinemaimidbodypics

I send out lots of “e-blasts” for clients. Some clients want my opinion on whether or not it’s still relevant, some don’t. Regardless of that, e-mail is still a great communication tool.

But e-mail is changing.

The youngins have said, “I don’t check my e-mail unless you tell me you’re sending me something.” Many younger generations don’t use e-mail the way other generations do. If you’re going to continue to use e-mail for marketing, there are some things you should know.

  1. The old rules don’t apply
    • People want real interaction. Use a monitored reply address, not that ‘no reply’ or ‘admin’ baloney.
    • Cold-selling via e-mail is a rookie mistake and fodder of the 90’s. Work on building trust and relationships through e-mail.
    • You don’t need a ‘call-to-action’ in every button, headline, or subject, which leads us into…
  2. Consumers are getting less tolerant of sales pitches: you’ve gotta be less “spammy” and “sales-y”
    • Just stop with the ‘Clickbait‘ subject lines, for crying out loud! This tactic hurts consumers’ trust in your brand. I would even venture to say consumers will resent you for clickbait titles.
    • Authenticity matters: have a personality and unique voice. Speak and write like a human being, not a bot.
    • Make sure the e-mail focuses on the consumer, not the product. Be helpful, offer relevant information the consumer is interested in (which is usually themselves). Be reader-centered.
  3. Who your buyers are matters whether or not e-mail still works
    • Really consider that point; just because someone hands you their e-mail address doesn’t mean they are a buyer. Sometimes they’re just being nice, sometimes it’s a throwaway e-mail address because they think you’re going to send them junk.
    • Many younger people consider e-mail passé. ‘Old people’ use Facebook, and ‘older than old’ people use e-mail. Yes, younger generations have e-mail accounts, but they don’t check them regularly or rely on them to keep up with people the way previous generations did and do.
  4. Conclusion: It’s in flux. You’ve got to change your approach.
    • Be authentic. Have conversations. Use humor!
    • Be brief: I’ve got 30 unread e-mail in my inbox right now–most of which are newsletters–and I don’t wanna scroll through some company’s long-winded sales pitch. I’m probably just gonna delete it.
    • Be useful: Stick to one topic or goal. Is this a business recap that directly affects your readers? Are you offering an exclusive deal? Remember why your reader signed up to receive e-mails.

Here’s the thing: you have to think of e-mail the same way you think of social media: Who is your market? What is your goal? Do you have time for it? Can you adapt? And one final point: when you Google “e-mail marketing tips,” be sure and check the date on the article. You don’t exactly want an article posted in 2009 for tips on e-mail marketing.